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Pentecost 10C August 14, 2022

August 14, 2022         

Luke 12:49-56  

Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may the Spirit of God be present. Amen.  

You have just heard a spot-on description of the world we live in today. A world that suffers from severe dysfunction. A world in which we are divided socially, economically, racially, politically, and religiously not only in our own country but throughout the world. A world where we see division in marriages and families, in the workplace, and in our schools. God knows we already have more than enough division on the earth and could use some good news for a change. So, when Jesus, the one of whom it was prophesied would “guide our feet into the way of peace” and who is himself known as “the prince of peace” asks his disciples, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12; 49-51), it gives us great cause for concern.  

In a nation and world filled with such divisiveness, it seems like the last thing we need is a Gospel reading where Jesus, the one we follow, appears to be calling us to division. This is an extremely difficult and challenging message from Jesus. The Jesus we see in this text seems out of character with the Jesus who loves and heals and cares for the poor, the Jesus who fed a bunch of hungry followers with five loaves and two fish, who healed the paralyzed, the blind, the leper, and raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been dead for four days.  This is what we want Jesus to do, to heal, teach, feed, and inspire, but this is not what we hear today, and this fire bringing, family dividing Jesus makes us very uncomfortable.    

We would all rather read of unity and harmony, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that we should expect divisions and disharmony.  On the face of it, it appears that Jesus is calling for or predicting division, yet, when we closely study the text, we discover that there are certainly other interpretations available. Within the reading, we find that there is more than enough evidence to suggest that Jesus is setting the stage for the eventual outcome of his ministry and what it means for those who follow him.  

First, he gives a quick summary of his ministry and its eventual end; a fire of cleansing judgment that spreads the good news and the baptism of his death in order to conquer death. He then talks about the effects the gospel might have on anyone who follows him, and finally, issues a warning about our willingness to hear and see only what we choose to see and hear.  

We must remember that this conversation took place when Jesus and his disciples were on their final journey to Jerusalem.  As Jesus moved closer and closer to his destination, a sense of urgency must have been rising in him. “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now!” (Luke 12; 49-51). words which bring us back to John the Baptist reminding us that Jesus “will baptize you with] the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3: 17). A fire that will purify and refine, that will change everything and turn everything right side up, changing a world marred by oppression, social injustices, killing and war. There was so much his disciples still did not understand about the Kingdom he had been born to rule.  They were still looking for a Messiah who would bring down Rome in a great show of military strength, not understanding that Jesus’s mission was to bring about change, growth, and new life.  

It must have been very frustrating for Jesus.  For three years he had been with them teaching with stories and parables about the way the Kingdom of God works, and they still didn’t get it.  Once in a while, there would be a glimmer of understanding, which would quickly fade, as they, the disciples, those who knew Jesus best kept trying to put him into the box of their own expectations.   

Now, Jesus, who only recently had rebuked James and John for wanting to bring down fire on some Samaritans when they did not welcome them into their village, declares that he cannot wait to bring down fire himself. I can just imagine James and John complaining to themselves, “How come he gets to do it when we couldn’t?” But wait a  minute! There is a difference. While James and John were eager to bring down a consuming fire to destroy the village, Jesus is talking about a purifying fire. He knows what lies ahead for him and his disciples, and he wants to be sure they have been refined and tested, so that they can remain strong when the time comes.  

Just as Jesus knew that his witness to the gospel would bring about his own suffering and death, he knew that his ministry would cause conflict, pitting his followers against their neighbors, and even their own family members. it is not Jesus’ purpose to set children against their parent or parents against their children, but this sort of division can be the result of the changes brought about by Christ’s work. He reminds us that he has not come to validate human institutions and the values that we promote, but that he has come to set into motion God’s radical will for the world.  The stress that he is under is not anxiety, but a total absorption in his mission to redeem our broken world, by demolishing the status quo and replacing it with his mission of compassion, mercy, and justice.  Many of us can attest to the fact that following Jesus will divide us, separating us from those who deny him because we have experienced it.   

If we claim to be followers of Christ, we cannot keep pretending that the world is fair and just - because it is not. We all want comfort, security, and peace, sometimes at all costs ---, and sometimes at any cost - sad to say, even if it includes the lives of our oppressed brothers and sisters who are refugees, immigrants, black, and Hispanic. Can you see the division of which Jesus speaks? It all goes back to his greatest commandment to love God and love neighbor, which is not an unrealistic hope; but a commandment to love. I honestly believe that if I  were to take a poll here, this morning, I am sure that there is not one person who would say that this is an easy commandment.  We all know the commandment; we believe that this is what is required of us, but to live it is another, and this is what causes the greatest division.  

To live it, may in fact bring division because it means that we cannot ignore the injustices happening around us. It means being honest about the way things are.  It means sharing stories about how the brokenness of our communities, institutions, and government is affecting the lives of people and being willing to find ways to alleviate suffering – not just at the point where people are in crisis, but where the conditions that create the crisis begin. His words are intended to convey a sense of urgency and to stir things up.  

Our need for control may be the point of the final part of today’s gospel. Here Jesus addresses our inability to realize or even to acknowledge what is really happening in the world and ends by challenging the crowds, “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56).  Even though we are not all farmers, many of us will check the weather report before we go to bed and again first thing in the morning, so we can plan our days accordingly.  The people crowding around Jesus were no different.  They could tell if it was going to rain by noticing the smallest cloud in the west, and they knew that if the wind was coming off the desert in the south, that day was going to be a scorcher. Jesus is saying that it is nothing less than hypocrisy when the same skills are not used to interpret the signs of the time, to recognize that the day of the Lord is near. Look around, the signs are all there for everyone to see.  The problem is not so much that we are unable to interpret the signs, but more that we are unwilling to do so.  

Today’s gospel reminds us that it is time to take off the blinders and see what God sees.  Time to pull ourselves out of our complacency, our willingness to maintain the status quo. It’s time to take a good hard look at who we are, and what we do, and see how far it is from what Jesus asks of us.  It is time that we allow ourselves to be challenged. Are you ready?